Passing time at 35,000 feet (Just a story…)

Written by

Andrew Millar


December 23, 2007

He bobbed up above the seat tops like something had just bitten him on the backside. Only nothing had. He was just one of those fussy, nervous, obsessive people – the kind you want to smack on the forehead. He had just lost something and needed to find it in the same instant.

This all took place a couple of years ago on a flight from Sydney to Tokyo. We were five hours into the flight, somewhere over the Equator. This flight is one of the most peaceful trips you can take. It is a great way to slide into travelling. It is almost always full of Japanese nationals returning home. And there is a trick all Japanese learn from birth – when you are travelling, you sleep. So although it is only 3pm Sydney time, everyone was asleep. Except for me, and the bobbing cork 3 rows in front.

Whatever he had lost, he was determined to find it.

He began with a visual scan of the obvious places from the standing position. Through thick glasses, which made him look like a shortsighted hawk, he surveyed his seat and the floor in front of his seat. (Or what there is of it, there is never much room in planes these days…)

Unable to locate the missing item from a standing vantage point he dropped below the seat tops to rummage. Which obviously inconvenienced his fellow travellers as I could see their heads shifting and jerking to get out of his way as he held blankets and pillows, possibly theirs, above his head to see what fell out. He returned to the standing position with hands on hips, to assess the situation.

No luck.

He looked at his headphones, examining the ends. And I stifled a laugh. I suddenly realised what he’d lost. The little piece of white foam that is meant to make the plastic tube feel comfortable in your ear was missing. I based this on the fact he’d taken his glasses off and was peering at the blue plastic tube at a focal distance of about five centimetres. Studying it for clues, I guessed. Then I saw where the missing foam had gone. I could see the white lifesaver lodged in his ear.

Soon one of the gentle, polite JAL attendants arrived to see what the commotion in 43D was all about. She supplied him with a new set and the cabin returned to peaceful gliding through the sky at 35,000 feet.

Perhaps the hostess didn’t see the foam in his ear, or she didn’t want to embarrass him. But she didn’t draw his attention to it. He settled down and I went back to my book, with a broad smile on my face from the grand ‘Buster Keaton’ performance I had just witnessed. I mused that he was now concerned that the left channel seemed so much quieter than the right. Those old style plastic tube headphones hardly worked at the best of times, let alone when an extra foam plug blocks your ear canal.

5 hours later, I spotted the little guy in the Customs line. I recognised him from the foam plug that was still in residence in his ear.

(Merry Christmas everyone…)